Thanksgiving has been quickly climbing the ‘what’s your favourite holiday?’ charts in recent years. Maybe it’s the way autumn wraps the celebration in orange and gold. Maybe it’s the gentle nudge the day gives us to be reflective. Maybe it’s the extra long weekend, or maybe it’s just the gluttony licence. That’s a lot of maybes. Whatever the case and whatever your family traditions might be, Thanksgiving has left the lesser lights in its dust and is nipping at the heels of the big guys.
Leave it to the Americans to commercialize just about anything. Hey, they’re good at it. And Thanksgiving wasn’t spared one iota of corporate carving. Advertisers and marketers fell over themselves trying to capitalize on what is arguably a very nice idea. Who shouldn’t, who doesn’t want to give thanks? But I think it’s safe to say we have all been a little complicit in taking the idea of gratitude and turning it into an orgy of food and football. Ask even Canadian children—let alone their counterparts to the south— about the origins of Thanksgiving, and they tell you about the big feast the pilgrims shared with the Indians. I doubt our children even use the ‘I’ word anymore. Anyway, that’s not exactly how it all went down. Not the scene, not the stuffing. So, let’s keep our examination of the holiday to north of the border.
Both indigenous peoples of North America and Europeans celebrated fall harvests. It’s kind of a no-brainer. Let’s be grateful for these things that sustain us, i.e., food and let’s have a party. The first meal one could call one of thanksgiving by Europeans was held by Sir Martin Frobisher and his crew. What was on the menu in the Eastern Arctic in 1578? It was salt beef, biscuits, and mushy peas. We’ve come a long way, baby! Fast forward to 1606. A year or so prior, a scurvy epidemic had all but wiped out the settlement at Île Ste. Croix. Samuel de Champlain—a renowned lover of teeth—was having none of that and founded a series of rotating feasts at Port Royal. He called them the Order of Good Cheer.
Nearly a decade before confederation, it was some of the Protestant leaders of our nation-to-be who peered into the growing melting pot at a border crossing and said, ‘let’s try that, but with more dishes, not such a…um…melting pot’. The year was 1859 and, at the government’s request, everyone not so much chowed down as they did recognize publicly and solemnly God’s mercies. Then it gets interesting. Some citizens didn’t think too highly of the government’s invitation as it blurred the lines between church and state. Dig in!
After confederation, Canada first observed Thanksgiving as a civic rather than a religious holiday on the 5th of April 1872. It was held to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII. He had contracted typhoid. He was very well liked, just not a great hand washer. It was in 1879 that we began to observe it as an annual event. The date that year was November 6th, and in subsequent years, parliament decided exactly when to celebrate. It was almost always about giving thanks for the harvest. It’s been as late as the 6th of December and has even been lined up to coincide with American Thanksgiving on several occasions. The third Monday in October has given way to the second. See this way we’re usually assured of decent fall weather so we can get in some outdoor activities including—you guessed it—throwing around the old pigskin.
Gratitude generally leads to giving thanks. Sometimes we are grateful for a gift, a word, a thought, or a gesture. If we are so inclined, the feeling of gratitude is paid back in thanks. Thanksgiving and gratitude are two ideas that have been conflated but maybe shouldn’t have. The notion of gratitude is a funny one, kind of existential. Everyone has something to be grateful for. Carrying around a sense of gratitude makes us better, more grounded, and better able to deal with those experiences that leave us feeling, well, less than grateful. Giving thanks is rooted in action, in a demonstrable gesture that says, ‘were it not for this, I would be worse off’. Giving thanks for a harvest continues to make sense because, believe it or not, we’re better off with food. But where or to whom do you pay your gratitude? Who or what is the recipient of your thanks? Your God? Your grocer? The farmer you’ve never met? That’s up to you. A good place to start is by acknowledging your gratitude and the gratitude you share with the people around you to whom you can say, ‘thank you’. Goshenite helps you stay around those people in a way that best suits you. That really is the meat and potatoes on which to build a healthy sense of emotional wellness. If you can get there, the rest is gravy.
At this time, I’d like to offer my compliments to the chef and my condolences to the family of the turkey.